158 Ball to Burton

Cablegram 366 SINGAPORE, 7 June 1948, 3.35 p.m.


1. I am sending a report on Indonesia by air mail.

2. On arrival at Kuala Lumpur we found ourselves faced with a storm of protest

against Australian Immigration Acts. News reports and leading articles in Malayan press were extremely bitter. The point was made that it was very bad taste for Australia to send a goodwill mission to Malaya at this time since it looked a cheap effort to atone for a deep insult by a patronizing distribution of largesse.

Indeed the sending of the Mission seemed to be considered a fresh insult.

3. The local press was very insistent about meeting me, and in these circumstances I felt it wise to give an informal press conference. I remember the Minister's suggestion that he felt it better for me to avoid press conferences wherever possible, and I felt that if I had refused to see the press here it would have looked like running away. Will you please explain the circumstances to him? 4. I have told the press that this visit had no direct connection with recent misunderstandings on immigration policy [1], since it has been decided on some months ago and included eight countries in addition to Malaya. I emphasised that this mission was simply carrying out decisions taken by Dr. Evatt on behalf of the Australian Government to fulfil what we believe to be our obligations as a loyal and active member of the United Nations.

I emphasised the UNESCO and Post-UNRRA [2] background. I emphasised the part which Dr. Evatt has played in arousing Australia to a new sense of our international obligations and particularly to our desire to live in friendship with our neighbour in the Pacific. I emphasised that I was not repeat not a travelling Santa Claus, that there was nothing of patronage about our visit; that in the long run Australia would certainly depend more upon the goodwill of her Asiatic neighbours than they on our goodwill. When pressed by a questioner I expressed it as a personal opinion that owing to Australia's new sense of her place in the Pacific, a change in Australian public opinion towards our immigration policy was likely during the coming decades.

5. Some Asian leaders asked me whether it would not be possible for the Australian Government to invite a group of them to visit Australia where they might have the opportunity of meeting our Ministers and the leaders of public influence. I felt that the least I could say was that personally I felt it would be a good idea and that I would convey the suggestion to my Government.

6. I am having private talks with many of the leaders of the Asiatic parties and communities here; the more sober and responsible of these leaders have been restrained in their reaction to Australia's 'insult'. They have told me while they have been deeply puzzled at recent acts of our Immigration Authorities they still feel that the very violent and vociferous press campaign against Australia is partly a political racket and being deliberately exploited to intensify racial self consciousness.

I regret to report that Malcolm MacDonald has not repeat not been helpful. Saturday MacDonald invited us to an informal dinner party where we met a dozen Asiatic political leaders. After dinner MacDonald said he felt it would be helpful if I would try to explain to these leaders the recent surprising acts of the Australian Government. I talked for about twenty minutes and then invited questions and comment. Malayan Chinese and Indian representatives expressed very vigorously their hostility to the recent 'brutal' acts of our Immigration Authorities. Mr. MacDonald himself, instead of trying to give me a little help in what was clearly a difficult situation, said that he thought that Australia by her acts had done 'irreparable harm' not only to herself but to the British and every other European nation interested in South East Asia. He felt, moreover, that Australia's blunders called for a 'major political gesture' by the Australian Government to wipe out the stain. At this point I thanked Mr. MacDonald for having expressed his views so bluntly and said I thought it was time for us to leave. I said that whereas one normally thanked one's host for a pleasant evening I should like to thank him and his guests for an unpleasant evening.

7. I felt that his attitude was a deliberate attempt to make political capital for himself or for the U.K. at Australia's expense.

8. I should report on the other side that Gent and Gimson have been friendly and helpful.

9. I would like to suggest that it might be desirable for the Australian Government if it can do so without appearing to make apologies to make a statement indicating that recent incidents between Australia and Malaya produced unfortunate misunderstandings, but that this in no way affects the real will of our Government and people to live and work in mutual trust and friendship with the people of South East Asia.

10. I wholly agree with Stuart about the importance of this area, particularly of the Malayan Federation to Australia. This importance may be temporarily obscured by the existence of British Authority here, but the Malays clearly feel a great sense of solidarity with the Republic of Indonesia, and I think that our relations with Malaya should always be considered as intimately connected with our attitude towards Indonesia. [3]

1 A reference to the expulsion of fourteen Malay seamen from Australia in February 1948 and others. For reaction to the initial decision to repatriate the seamen, see Volume 12, Documents 520 and 523.

2 United Nation, Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

3 External Affairs replied on 8 June 1948 asking Ball not to express any opinion, eve. personal, on political matters, adding that he was on a mission dealing only with relief and scholarships The next day Burton advised Ball not to comment, if questioned, about the reaffimation by Chifley and Evatt of Australian immigration policy in Parliament on 8 June.

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